Ant-Man, the Wasp, and the Fear of Death

I went to see Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania this evening with my family, and if you would rather not have me ruin the movie for you, stop reading now. It is not that I will plunge into some juicy spoilers (I’ll warn you when I do); it is just that I fear that you won’t be able to watch it — or any Marvel-based movie for that matter — through a normal lens ever again.

I realized something while watching the movie: If you take away a person’s fear of death from the plot line, so common in superhero movies (especially Marvel movies), you have no plot at all. In Quantumania, for example, … (err, spoiler alert!) … much of the plot hinges on the fear that Scott Lang (Ant-Man, played by Paul Rudd) has in potentially losing his daughter, Cassie (played by Kathryn Newton). This fear is obvious, so the villain can manipulate Lang into doing his bidding simply by threatening Cassie’s life. There is no negotiation with the villain because the villain is all-powerful (until he is not all-powerful when it is inconvenient for him to be so).

Although, at the same time, there is something Lang — and, more specifically, Cassie — can do about it: When threatened, both Lang and his daughter can choose death with dignity rather than give into the villain, whose actions can potentially lead to the world’s demise.

You see, one of the major lessons I have learned in my studies of trauma-sensitive theology is that we all have a choice in the midst of crisis. We seldom have a choice in how crises befall us; but, we do have a choice in how we respond. It is when we realize that we always have some choice, some agency (and the ability to reclaim a sense of agency), that we are able to survive, cope with, or prove victorious in the face of a crisis.

One of the major lessons I have learned in my studies of trauma-sensitive theology is that we all have a choice in the midst of crisis.”

For Christians, agency comes in the form of knowing Christ and of trusting that Christ is God’s victory of eternal life over death. Death is not an end, it is a passage to be in communion with our Creator. Salvation does not insure longevity on this earth, nor does it promise an easy journey free from tragedy or conflict. But salvation does provide us with the agency to choose Christ and transcend the temporary limitations and suffering our situations impose on us. Even death, which is so threatening to the non-believer, becomes an old friend, whom we welcome at the sunset of our life’s final chapter. It is Paul who poses the question, “O Death, where is your sting” (1 Cor. 15:55-57), and it is Paul who affirms that “death is gain, and life is Christ” (Phil. 1:21).

Even death, which is so threatening to the non-believer, becomes an old friend, whom we welcome at the sunset of our life’s final chapter.”

For Marvel-themed superheros and the masses they seek to save, there is no hope for eternal life after death. Therefore, every goal, plan, and purpose must serve in trying to stop death in its tracks; even if it means time-travel, leaping from one multiverse to another, bending rules and subverting ethical “means” to achieve ends, or killing (we’ll call it “sacrificing” to be PC) the few to save the many.

The problem is that, in trying to do everything in one’s power to avoid, subvert, beat, or overcome death, we inevitably take on the role of Savior and, in turn, avoid, subvert, and beat God. A universe in which the fear of death is the overriding factor for survival, is a universe in which God is irrelevant. Jesus said it best, “Whoever tries to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it” (Luke 17:33). No wonder the one tree God restricted Adam and Eve from eating was the one tree tied to death.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Come on, Joe, this is only a movie.” I want to remind you that movies tend to reflect reality back to us. We may not have superheros or superpowers that threaten God’s relevancy in the world, but we do make decisions every day as if God is irrelevant. And we fall into the trap of living out of the fear death. We have become efficient in turning stones into bread so as not to suffer or to have to rely on God’s Word.

There are hundreds of ways we communicate our distrust of God every day, and we subvert God in order to do things that benefit us and prolong our life. We disregard how our actions and decisions exploit, oppress, and abuse others, the environment, and our resources. We are even willing to take the lives of others to preserve our own lives or, worse yet, to preserve our stuff.

As I watched Quantumania unfold, I wanted to hear an alternative script for once! (Spoiler alert!) Not the usual script, in which Lang and Cassie barter to preserve Cassie’s life, but a script in which Cassie or Lang says, “I am willing to die today to preserve the lives of others because that’s what Jesus did for me. Besides, death is not the final destination. I have a choice, and there is nothing this all-powerful villain can do about it. We bear witness to our hope in Christ not only in how we live, but how we die.”

By now, these Marvel movies have become old hat with the same, tired plot lines that boil down to this: People in the films are afraid to die. I did not expect anyone in the movie to pose a theological option, in which God might have some agency in the plot. Nor did I expect Lang and Cassie to give in to the villain, although it would have saved us time and money from having to watch the film in its entirety. But I did expect to watch a movie in which saving the world results from a careful choreography of mere coincidences and dumb luck, with the emphasis on the word dumb, and luck being a product not of fun and entertaining cinema, but of lazy writing and an emphasis on the distractions and cost-cutting measures of CGI fanfare.

A Hardy Welcome to 2023! Goals for the New Year…

I have always been a “goals guy”.  You know the one guy in class or in the office who plans everything, seems to be ahead of schedule, or makes numerous lists?  Yeah, that’s me.

This past week, I set out to make goals that will make 2023 nothing like 2022.  I’m ready to put 2022 behind me, as far as possible in fact!

So, this year, I have set out with new personal, professional, and spiritual goals.

My personal goals include a more concerted effort to exercise and diet.  Now, I’ve been working on this a long time, but I must admit that this past year, I have let my ministry consume my time more than I should have.  I have left little to growing my ministry of health and exercise.  With this goal already in place in the last week, I have already lost two pounds!  That’s a win!

My spiritual goals are a little different too.  Last year, I organized my daily Scripture readings and prayer around a prayer book that I tried on for size.  It was rich in worship and connection, but I wanted to try something different.  This year I am reading through the New Testament in the newly released Experiencing God Bible.  It is in the CSB (Christian Standard Bible) version, which is new to me. 

I continue to read through the Old Testament (since starting again in 2020) translation by Robert Alter, which has provided rich commentary and insights along the way.  I’m in 2 Kings right now. 

And I also read a chapter of Thomas A’Kempis’ Imitation of Christ. In the version I have, each chapter includes a reflection and a prayer to go along with the text, and those prayers lead me into my quiet time with Jesus.

Professionally, I am trying to ask questions (or discovering the right questions to ask) about each ministry in our church.  With one less ministerial staff member for the time being, we have to insure that we are doing the best we can with what we do well rather than trying to “be all things for all people”.  The two questions I am asking about each ministry is this:

  • How do we articulate the “…so that…” statement?  I’d like to know how each ministry connects with our mission, values, and the people we are trying to reach.  So, for instance, we can say, “We do the GROW ministry so that we can communicate and pray for people who are unable to be on campus on a regular basis.” That is great, but can there be more to it, like: “We also do GROW so that we can build connections with new guests and our local community“.  Well, if that is the case, what do we need to add to our GROW ministry to reach new people both within and beyond the church? 
  • Does it bear fruit?  Another question to ask is whether a ministry is bearing fruit.  Too often, we look at numbers and “returns on investment” when we assess the efficacy of ministries.  But those are questions appropriate for the marketplace, not necessarily for God’s mission in the life of our church. What if we asked, “Is this ministry bearing fruit?”  What kind of “measures of success” might we look at?  Instead of numbers, we would look at spiritual growth, connections and sharing the Gospel, and engaging our community on mission for God.  These are very different ways of looking at success of our ministry. 

These are just a handful of goals I have for 2023, and I hope that you are as excited about this New Year as I am.  I’m ready to go, and to go where Jesus leads!  What about you?